Born equal? The distribution of government Medicare spending for children.
Dalziel KM., Huang L., Hiscock H., Clarke PM.
Providing equitable care is an objective of many national healthcare systems. Using the birth cohort of the nationally representative Longitudinal Study of Australian Children linked with the Medicare Benefits Scheme billing data who were recruited in 2004 at ages 0-1 years and assessed biennially for six waves, we assessed the distribution of out-of-hospital government Medicare spending by household income. 4853 children followed over 11 years were included in the study. Distributions of major spending components including general practitioner and specialist care were assessed using concentration indices. Trends in the inequalities as children grow were investigated. The results showed that after controlling for health care needs, total government Medicare spending over 0-11 years of age favoured the rich (concentration index 0.041). The Medicare spending for general practitioner care was equal (concentration index 0.005) while for specialist care and diagnostics and imaging were 'pro-rich' (concentration index 0.108 and 0.088 respectively). Children from poorer families were most disadvantaged when aged 0-1 years in specialist spending, and the disparity lessened as children approached adolescence. Our findings suggest that income-related inequalities exist in government Medicare spending particularly in the first few years of life. As early years of life are a critical window in childhood development and building block for future health, the results warrant further investigation and attention from policy makers.